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'Buy Local' Booster

March 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 3
by Dianne Molvig

2013 CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec Amanda Brenneman envisions a CU network—and a common mobile app—that reward members for keeping dollars within their communities.

CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec Amanda Brenneman Suppose you’re traveling on a vacation or business trip, and you decide you’d like to have dinner at a locally owned restaurant. What if you got not only a tasty meal, but also a discount, by using your debit or credit card from your credit union back home?

You may be able to do that some day soon, if Amanda Brenneman’s plans come to fruition. She envisions a nationwide network of CUs active in Buy Local programs in their communities. Those CUs would be linked by a mobile app, and their members could enjoy discounts or other special offers when they shop at Buy Local businesses, wherever they may be.

Buy Local efforts have sprung up across the country over the past 15 years. But many CUs haven’t gotten on board.

“I’m hoping to change that,” says Brenneman, business development officer at $460 million Maps Credit Union, Salem, Ore.

For her efforts to build the program, Brenneman has been selected as the 2013 CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec. She’s already seen heightened Buy Local interest among CUs in response to her presentation at CUES’ CEO/Executive Team Network in November in San Diego, where she was named NTCUE challenge winner.

A Career Turn

As Brenneman sees it, credit unions and Buy Local campaigns are a natural fit. And joining in the Buy Local movement can be a boon to any credit union.

“It shows the community that you really do exist for the community,” she says. “You’re not just there for your members, but you’re also serving the greater good for all those in the area where you live, work and play. It positions the credit union in a great light as a socially responsible financial institution.”

Brenneman spent her first two years at Maps CU working as a teller while she finished her college degree in family studies and psychology. In late 2012 she was named Maps CU’s business development officer. It was a career turn she would not have predicted, but, she says, “It’s a phenomenal career path, and I look forward to what’s in store.”

Brenneman’s predecessor in her current position, Jamie Young, launched the Buy Local program in Salem in early 2011. While Maps CU offers business services, feeding that offering was not the reason for the program. In 2010, Oregon voters passed measures that increased taxes on businesses.

“In the middle of the recession, our already hard-hit economy was then faced with this tax increase, and we wanted to do something about it,” Brenneman explains.

Young “did a fantastic job, and I inherited a great program,” Brenneman says. “When I took over, I thought, how can I take this to the next level?”

She focused on building relationships with more local businesses and doing a lot of cold-calling. Her aim was not only to add business partners, but also to expand to more diverse types of enterprises. The best part of her job, Brenneman says, “is working with our Buy Local partners one on one. No two are the same. That’s what makes this challenging and exciting.”

Today there are more than 50 participating businesses—including a hardware store, pet store, golf course, coffee shops, car washes, motorcycle shop, movie theater and more—in and around Salem, population 157,000. “I don’t need to do cold-calling anymore,” Brenneman says. “This is growing by word of mouth.”

Small Investment, Major Gains

Maps CU’s Buy Local provides free advertising for participating businesses, and credit union members get discounts when they pay with their Maps CU credit or debit card. But it’s not just members who reap benefits.

Every two weeks, the credit union features a Buy Local partner that’s offering a special coupon for a free item. Anyone, member or not, can stop by a Maps CU branch or visit its website to get a coupon. The credit union then reimburses the business, to a maximum of $5, for each coupon redeemed.

The program is immensely popular with businesses and community residents alike. “We get awesome accolades,” Brenneman says. “People are excited about this. We help them get a taste of the local flair, at no cost to them.”

It costs Maps CU around $9,000 a year to run the program, Brenneman reports. That includes advertising for Buy Local partners, coupon reimbursements to partners, coupon printing and so on.

To date, local businesses have seen a 233 percent increase in sales, on average, since joining the program. And during the life of the program, Maps CU has seen its debit card transactions at Buy Local partners rise by more than 106 percent, according to Brenneman.

Plus, she notes, “This is getting our name out there. People go back to our website again and again to see what offer we’re featuring next. We have a small expense when you look at how many people we’re reaching.”

The Next Step

The success in Salem has spurred Brenneman to think big. Maps CU developed its Buy Local mobile app, spearheaded by Maps CU’s subsidiary, CU Wireless, with help from the Multiple Engineering Co-op Program at Oregon State University. The next step will be to extend the app’s availability nationwide.

“We already have some credit unions in line who say they want to buy the app,” Brenneman says. “We’re now assembling a team to figure out what we need to do to roll it out nationally.”

Thus, some day in the not-so-distant future, the app would allow credit union members anywhere to benefit from special Buy Local offers, whether in their hometown or on their travels.

As for Brenneman’s future, she’s just getting started. Now only 29, “I definitely see myself staying in the credit union industry,” she says. “The opportunities for growth seem to be almost countless.”

In the more immediate future, she’s looking forward to collecting on her prize for winning the 2013 CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec challenge. The prize package consists of registration, airfare and accommodations for two of CUES’ CEO Institutes—one in 2014 and one in 2015. Plus, she will have two remote coaching sessions from challenge sponsor DDJ Myers Ltd., a leadership development firm, CUES Supplier member and CUES strategic partner.

As Brenneman looks ahead to all of these career-growth opportunities, she says, “I am over-the-moon excited.”

Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.

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